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WHO regional director risks ousting over bullying claims

WHO sees Covid posing similar threat to flu this year

The World Health Organization‘s executive board was on Monday debating firing a powerful regional director over accusations of abusive, racist behaviour, several sources said.

The WHO executive board called a special closed-door session to discuss the case of Japanese doctor Takeshi Kasai, the suspended head of the UN health agency’s Western Pacific region, according to two diplomatic sources who asked not to be named.

The WHO meeting, which will wrap up Tuesday, was officially scheduled to consider “the recommendation of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific”, which was held in the regional headquarters in Manila last week, also behind closed-doors.

While WHO has not revealed what recommendation was being considered, the diplomatic sources told AFP that the Manila meeting had called for Kasai to be dismissed.

“Up to the 11th hour they were giving him the option to resign,” but Kasai refused, one of the diplomatic sources said.

“The vote was very close, 13-11… There were a lot of phone calls behind the scenes,” the source said, adding that Japan had tried to block a report on an investigation into the case from being published.

A slew of accusations against Kasai emerged in January last year from staff past and present, in revelations first published by the Associated Press news agency.

Kasai, who denied the allegations, was accused of presiding over a “toxic atmosphere” at the WHO’s Western Pacific headquarters in Manila with a culture of “systemic bullying and public ridiculing”.

The staff, who wished to remain anonymous “for fear of retaliation”, accused him of making “derogatory remarks to staff of certain nationalities”, in particular local Filipinos.

He was also accused of mismanaging the Covid pandemic, abusing his power to secure his re-election and nepotism.

A few days after the revelations emerged, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged the organisation had been aware for several months of the concerns and had launched an investigation.

The UN agency has not revealed any details from the investigation, but did announce last August that Kasai had been put on leave and temporarily replaced by WHO number two Zsuzsanna Jakab.

Unlike other UN agencies, WHO’s regional directors are quite powerful with a lot of autonomy. They are elected by member states in the region they govern, before being confirmed by the full membership.

Headquartered in the Philippines’ capital Manila, the WHO’s Western Pacific region covers almost 1.9 billion people across 37 territories.

Appointed by the WHO executive board, Kasai has been in the post since February 2019. He was previously the region’s number two and has worked for the WHO for more than 15 years.


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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French state-owned international news agency based in Paris. It is the world's oldest news agency, having been founded in 1835 as Havas.

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